Visions of Corruption Control and the Evolution of American Public Administration

Article excerpt

Changing Visions of Corruption and Corruption Control

The anticorruption project has been an integral part of the intellectual and political reform movements that have shaped American federal, state, and local governments throughout the 20th century. The anticorruption project includes the ideology, laws, regulations, and administrative strategies and inter- and intra-organizational checks, balances, and institutions aimed at defining, identifying, preventing, and punishing official corruption. This project has been cumulative. Each new stage of the anticorruption project ratchets-up the quantity and intensity of corruption prevention in government and increases the project's impact on public administration. The absence of scandals is attributed to anticorruption strategies already in place; the occurrence of scandals is cited as proof that additional anticorruption laws, administrative strategies, and organizational prophylactics are needed.

In this article, we describe the evolution of the anticorruption project, especially its assumptions, ideologies, and goals. From 19th century civil service reformers to contemporary inspectors general, prosecutors, comptrollers, and loss-prevention specialists, pursuit of the public good has included an image of governmental operations free from corruption. Despite the expansion of the definition of corruption, multiplication of anticorruption strategies, and intensification of control techniques, more intervention always seems to be required. We argue that a new, panoptic vision of corruption control now influences and shapes public administration; while it can be traced to earlier anticorruption reforms, it has a distinct agenda and has a distinct impact on the operation of American government.

Our observations are drawn from the large scholarly literature on corruption and from our own on-going empirical research in New York City. Because of New York City's gargantuan government, tradition of machine politics, visibility in the media, and corps of good government reformers, it has always been a laboratory for corruption-control experiments (Anechiarico and Jacobs, 1992, pp. 580-603). However, our observations about New York City should be relevant to public administration more generally, particularly large state and local governments.

Perhaps surprisingly, while municipal corruption has received a good deal of attention from political scientists and urban specialists, the connection between anticorruption reform and public administration has not been systematically examined. Empirical studies of urban public administration hardly point to, much less emphasize, the extent to which government is organized to prevent public officials from engaging in bribery, embezzlement, nepotism, favoritism, conflicts of interest, and even the appearance of these species of dishonesty. To a significant extent, the organization, rules, and energy of urban government are focused on surveilling and controlling officials rather than on the production of government outputs.

We identify four visions of corruption control: antipatronage, progressive, scientific management, and panoptic.(1) We also consider a revisionist critique of die policies implementing these visions. Revisionism, although first appearing in the Progressive era, has been forcefully articulated in reaction to the emergence of the modern panoptic vision. Although these four visions of corruption control significantly overlap, they correspond roughly to parallel stages of American public administration. Thus, this article reconstructs the discourse that has taken place in public administration and in the larger society over the problem of governmental corruption, the possibility of solving it, and the most efficacious remedial strategies.

A vision, as we are using it, is a paradigm or weltanschauung worldview) that includes assumptions about the nature and control of human behavior and the role and potential of government institutions. …